At 4:51 am, on April 27 in the North Bronx, Paula Clarke and her two daughters were awoken by the sounds of explosions and shuffling feet. “I just thought that [it was] terrorism, nothing else,” she said, thinking back to the night.
More than a dozen law-enforcement officers surrounded their home, detonating flash-bang grenades, before breaking down the front door—assault rifles drawn. A helicopter hovered overhead. The officers forced the disoriented family to crawl down their hallway toward them on hands and knees. The events were captured by Paula’s private security cameras. The footage is published here for the first time.
“They kept saying, ‘Where is Michael?’ and ‘Where is the gun?’” said Paula. Her son’s name is not Michael. “If they did [their homework], they would know that he was on parole and that he lives with his father.” After searching the home and finding no young man and no firearm, three authorities stayed with the women while the rest left to detain her 21-year-old son (she asked that he not be named). At the time, Paula did not know that her private terror was part of a massive raid sweeping her Williamsbridge neighborhood.
* * *
That night, nearly 700 agents descended on Williamsbridge, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, to execute what would be the largest gang raid in modern New York City history. Seventy-eight people were arrested and 120 indicted, all on conspiracy charges. The men arrested—24 years old on average—are being held collectively responsible for eight murders, and a handful of firearms and narcotics charges dating back to 2007.
Unlike the city’s previous record-holding raid, from 2014, this predawn operation was conducted in close collaboration with federal authorities. ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, DEA, ATF, the US attorney general’s office, and a US marshal were all involved. “These gangs are the epitome of organized crime today,” said Angel Melendez of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in a celebratory press conference following the raid.
A few blocks southwest of Paula’s home is the Eastchester Gardens public-housing project, the epicenter of the April 27 raid. Residents there are baffled by an official narrative that paints the young men as highly organized gangsters terrorizing the community. “They had no guns, they had no money, they had no nothing,” says Tonya Washington, mother of two young men who were taken. “They picked up a bunch of young struggling bums…. if you’re still living with your parents, you’re young and struggling.”
And like Clarke, Eastchester residents were traumatized by the militaristic tactics. “My son was standing there, making himself something to eat at 5:20 in the morning,” said longtime Eastchester resident Diane Jones. “When they banged on the door my daughter got up, and my son said, ‘Open the door, let them in, I have nothing to hide.’ And they came charging in like they were crazy. And my grandkids were terrified—I have three grandchildren.” Her son, interviewed in the film, has been behind bars ever since.